SOUTHAVEN, MS (abc24.com) - Student-led prayer in public schools is now protected by Mississippi law. Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law on Thursday. This means prayer over public school intercoms, graduations, or sporting events is okay. Atheist groups are furious. They say this is unconstitutional.
The new Mississippi law allows for voluntary religious expression in public schools. Students can choose whether to participate. Atheists say the governor can expect a lawsuit soon. Parents we spoke with love the new law.
"I think it's wonderful, we pray all the time. It's the only way we get through the day so I'm absolutely for it," said a parent and supporter of the new law, Paige Self.
“I agree with the new law because I believe in God,” said another supporter, Christian Molsby.
"I think it's a great thing to allow young people to do whatever they want, plus it is freedom of religion,” said another parent, Josh Lynch.
The law says a disclaimer must be read before the prayer. Atheist groups say that's still breaking the law.
"It looks like the governor is thumbing his nose at the clear law of the land and the clear intent of the Supreme Court, which says even student-led prayer and student initiative prayers at high school events are unconstitutional,” said the CEO of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Dan Barker.
The Wisconsin-based foundation is the same group that fought against prayer in DeSoto County schools, prayer before Memphis City Council meetings, and prayer before football games at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. The group is not against students expressing their free speech, but against religious speech in public schools. Barker says the law is frivolous.
“It looks like the government is trying to help students use or misuse public schools as a billboard for their religious rituals,” he said.
Mississippians we spoke with have a different opinion.
"We're in the south; this is a Christian place anyway so everybody is with God,” said Molsby.
"I think that's what's great about America. You can think whatever you want to and they're not harming anybody, they're not making anybody else do it. I think that's what this country and this state is about,” said Lynch.
The law takes effect on July 1, 2013. In the meantime, the Freedom From Religion Foundation says they plan to sue any and every school that allows student prayer.